Data-driven dementia prevention

A new collaborative research project is aiming to prevent and reduce occurrence of dementia among Canadians by developing models for prevention.

Through support from the Weston Family Foundation’s Transformational Research 2020 Grant, Dr. Vladimir Hachinski, professor of clinical neurological sciences at Western, is leading interdisciplinary research involving scientists from across Canada, as well as from the U.K. and New Zealand.

By examining environmental, sociodemographic and patient data from across Canada, Hachinski and his collaborators hope to develop cost-effective models of dementia prevention that will ultimately help reduce incidence of dementia in the Canadian population.

“We know that environment, socioeconomic factors, access to medical care, individual risk and protective factors play a role in stroke and dementia risk,” Hachinski said. “This project is unique in that no one has ever attempted to look at all relevant factors associated with dementia prevention at once.”

The average person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease has up to eight different causes for dementia, Hachinski noted. The most common and only treatable and preventable cause is brain blood vessel disease, often as a result of a stroke.

When examining incidence (cases per 1,000) of stroke and dementia in Ontario over time, the researchers found a 32-per-cent decrease in stroke and seven per cent in dementia.

“This represents thousands of individuals spared a tragedy. We need to find out how we are preventing some of these cases and help to apply the lessons widely and systematically,” Hachinski said.

The project features 25 co-investigators, including multiple researchers from Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. Kem Rogers will provide a basic science perspective and act as project manager, with Stephanie Frisbee and Dr. Reza Azarpazhooh leading the epidemiological work. Jason Gilliland will lead the environmental analyses, while Shehzad Ali will provide the economic analysis.

The Weston Family Foundation’s Transformational Research Grant has awarded nearly $1.4 million in research funding over three years.

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